Saturday, August 16, 2008

Three actions we can take for Georgia

While there's plenty of blame to go round, who is to blame for starting the war between Georgia and Russia is now irrelevant. Georgian forces have been utterly defeated and Russian forces are in control in Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

They were always committing as many war crimes as the Georgians - now the Russians and their Ossetian, Chechen, Abkhazian and other militias are the only ones committing these crimes (1), (2), (3). Russian claims to be withdrawing their forces also seem to be empty (4).

The same Russian troops and pro-Russian Chechen militia-men who tortured, stole, murdered and raped their way across Chechnya for a decade, when Chechnya attempted to declare independence from the Russian Federation, are now burning Georgian villages, raping women and stealing from and firing at journalists, UN staff and foreign aid workers in central Georgia and South Ossetia - or at least the militia-men are while the Russian regulars (probably under orders from superiors) let them. Georgian men and boys considered 'of military age' are being taken away to unknown fates - possibly killed (5), (6), (7), (8), (9).

The EU and the US aren't prepared to put troops in to stop this, given the serious risk of a major war - and possibly even nuclear war. There are still actions we and our governments can take (one already taken by Bush being to send unarmed troops to Tbilisi to discourage Russian forces from entering it).

First our governments can put forward a motion to the General Assembly of the UN calling for an immediate withdrawal of Russian forces (including all militias allied to them) from central Georgia and from those villages in South Ossetia mostly inhabited by Georgians. The motion should also provide authority for the deployment of a UN peacekeeping force to deploy on both sides of the border between the South Ossetian region and central Georgia and along the main roads from Tbilisi airport to South Ossetia to protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid to be distributed.
This will not have the same weight as a UN Security Council motion but the Russian government will be unable to veto it and it's the next best thing to a UNSC motion.

A second motion should call for the future of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to be determined by referenda organised by the UN on independence, autonomy within Georgia or re-unification with Georgia. If these republics vote to become independent they can hold their own referenda on whether to then join the Russian federation. Russia cannot be allowed to conquer territory through war in breach of the UN Charter.

Second they could expel Russia from the G8 economic policy making group and refuse it entry to the World Trade Organisation. Third we could make it clear EU governments won't pay for Russian oil or gas until Russian forces and allied militias withdraw from central Georgian and allow UN peacekeepers into it and South Ossetia. Since Russia's economy is heavily dependent on oil and gas exports this would hurt Russia's economy as much as the EU's. They may be able to re-direct some exports to China and the far East - but the price they get for them would drop.

Georgian civilians lives are important enough to make it worth suffering power cuts until the Russian government relents or we can get alternative energy sources or reduce energy use through energy efficiency measures like government subsidised home insulation. It's also necessary to send a message to Russia that while we accept its right to defend itself and Russian citizens in South Ossetia we won't stand by, mute while they annexe territory by force or let militias murder civilians.

Of course we can also donate to the ICRC or other charities providing aid to Georgians, Ossetians and others - but the first three measures would make it easier and safer to get more aid to those who need it as soon as it's needed.

(1) = Herald (Scotland), 'Civilians allege militias raped and killed',

(2) = Human Rights Watch 14 Aug 2008, 'Russia/Georgia: Investigate Civilian Deaths
High Toll from Attacks on Populated Areas',

(3) = Human Rights Watch 15 Aug 2008, 'Georgia: Russian Cluster Bombs Kill Civilians'

(4) = BBC News 15 Aug 2008, 'Day-by-day: Georgia-Russia crisis',

(5) = see (1) above

(6) = Channel 4 News 14 Aug 2008, 'War of words breaks out between Russia and the US; tanks remain in Gori', , (see first video on that page)

(7) = Human Rights Watch 13 Aug 2008, 'Georgian Villages in South Ossetia Burnt, Looted',

(8) = Amnesty International 14 aug 2008, 'Georgia, Russia: Suffering of civilians must stop and abuses must be investigated',

(9) = Amnesty International 14 Aug 2008, 'Civilians vulnerable after hostilities in Georgia',

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